Erin Atwell, GSAS ‘ 12, in Rwanda Photo courtesy of IPED

Centuries after St. Ignatius bid his followers to “Go forth and set the world on fire,” Fordham students are heeding the call. Within a month, four recent graduates will scatter across the globe to serve the world’s poorest communities.

Erin Atwell, Emily Groene, Emily MacGruder—all GSAS ’12—and Joseph Witiw, GSAS ’11, will journey to Africa and the Middle East as International Development Fellows with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

“Catholic Relief Services is the face of the American Catholic community to the poor of the world, and since the ending of World War II, Fordham has played a significant role in preparing our students for professional careers with CRS,” said Henry Schwalbenberg, Ph.D., director of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ (GSAS) International Political Economy and Development program (IPED), from which the students graduated.

For Groene, the upcoming year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the third phase of her goal to work in humanitarian aid services and policy—a goal that formed after spending two years in Bulgaria with the Peace Corps and six months in Burkina Faso as a CRS intern.

“The six-month internship in West Africa confirmed my aspirations to work for CRS, and I learned a lot from my colleagues,” said the Onalaska, Wis., native. “At this point, I feel that I am well-equipped to face the challenges of working in international development and relief and I am eager to experience the everyday rewards.”

(Top) Emily Groene, GSAS ’12, at a CRS warehouse in Burkina Faso (Bottom) Emily MacGruder, GSAS ’12, in Sierra Leone Photos courtesy of IPED

As a fellow, Groene, who speaks French fluently, will research the CRS field operations in the Congo and collaborate with other CRS workers to develop additional programs and events. She will be stationed at the Central African regional headquarters in Kinshasa.

“I realized that I enjoy learning about new languages and cultures, and I’ve been exposed to some of the challenges of developing countries,” Groene said. “Part of the attraction that CRS has for me is that the organization will allow me to see new parts of the world while serving the most in need.”

MacGruder’s enthusiasm for her approaching fellowship in Dakar, Senegal comes from years of serving abroad. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she worked with unemployed youth in the South Pacific island of Tonga. Later, as a CRS intern, she served in Sierra Leone, where much of the population still struggles in the aftermath of civil war.

“I don’t have any trepidation about what I’ll see in Senegal after having worked in Sierra Leone,” said MacGruder, of Atkinson, Ill. “I loved my experiences working there [and Tonga], and this certainly led me to want to work with an organization like CRS, which works directly on the ground level with beneficiaries.”

Like Groene, MacGruder said that her time with CRS in Senegal is just the beginning of lifelong work in humanitarian aid.

“I don’t plan to ‘get back,’” she said, considering whether she will return to the United States following her year in Africa. “After the experience in Senegal, I hope to take a position in another country, likely in Sub-Saharan Africa, with CRS. This is hopefully the start of a career with this organization.”

Atwell and Witiw are no strangers to international humanitarian work, either. Atwell, who served in the Peace Corps, worked in Rwanda during her CRS internship and now will journey to Burundi for her fellowship.

Joseph Witiw, GSAS ’11, at his desk in Sierra Leone Photo courtesy of IPED

Witiw, a former member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, interned with CRS in Sierra Leone and will complete his fellowship in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank.

“Our graduates have gone on to perform this international humanitarian work of the church with the highest levels of compassion, commitment, and competence—and often in the most difficult parts of the world,” Schwalbenberg said.

“In continuing this special tradition, our four most recent International Development Fellows reaffirm Fordham’s core identity and mission as a Jesuit university.”